On 30 January (Thursday), the Government announced that it will be distributing four surgical masks to all 1.3 households in Singapore. It explained that it will be handing out 5.2 million free masks progressively from 1 February via 89 community centres (CC) and 654 residents’ committee (RC) centres.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also took to his Facebook on the same day to reiterate this information.
“Yesterday, we activated SAF, The People’s Association and other agencies to start preparing masks in special packs for Singaporeans. We want to ensure that every Singaporean who is unwell and needs a mask will have one,” he wrote.
PM Lee stated in his post that he understands people’s concerns and frustrations since they were not able to get hold of masks at retail stores.
He explained that although 5 million masks have been sent out to retailers in the last nine days, but the demand turned out to be higher than anticipated “given the recent rush all over Singapore to buy them”.
On Friday (24 January), the Ministry of Health (MOH) reassured the public that there were enough N95 masks in the country for the public. This announcement was made after several retail outlets ran out of both surgical and N95 masks that day following the confirmation of Singapore’s first Wuhan virus case.
However, since then, social media has been rife with comments from people in Singapore talking about how many retail outlets are still out of masks. On top of that, outlets with masks have to contend is growing queues.
Last week, Channel NewsAsia reported that a check showed that Guardian and Watsons stores in Paya Lebar Quarter, Clementi Mall and Tiong Bahru Plaza were out of the masks.
In PM Lee’s post, he reminded people to listen MOH’s advice that they will only need to wear a mask if they are feeling under the weather. “There is no need to wear a mask if we are well,” he wrote.
PM Lee noted that there will be a one-time distribution at Residents Committees (RC) and Community Centres (CC) in Singapore, and the public will need to bring their NRICs “to verify their addresses in order to collect one pack of four surgical masks per household”.
“People’s Association (PA) volunteers will help distribute masks to residents who are not able to go to the RCs and CCs themselves. We will post more details of the arrangements on RC notice boards and government social media channels,” he said.
He added, “Do heed the MOH advisories on when you should use a mask and how to properly handle one. Ensuring good personal hygiene and being socially responsible are our best protection against the virus.”
Upon reading this announcement, a large number of netizens thanked PM Lee and the Government for distributing the free masks. Under the comment section of his post, they said that they appreciate the kind gesture given that they are having a hard time trying to purchase the masks in retail outlets.
Despite being grateful, a large number of them pointed out that it would be better for the Government to distribute the masks via post.
This is because it will allow them to avoid being at a crowded place during collection, hence reducing their risks of contracting the deadly virus. Some added that it would be inconvenient for senior citizens to wait in a long queue to collect the free masks.
Given that masks distribution were done via mail during the 2003 SARS outbreak, some netizens question why it cannot be done the same way now.
Caroline Chiw suggests that the Government should “mandate that GPs give out at least one mask to patients who are genuinely unwell”. This is because she recently visited a reputed medical chain and was denied a mask even though her family member was down with cough and cold. She finds it “highly illogical” that a clinic does not supply a mask.
Separately, Facebook user Karen Ng Karen hopes that the government will set a maximum selling price for masks as some retailers have been selling them at “sky-high price”. “I hope government can set a maximum selling price for mask in this ‘panic period’, limit the amount of mask a person can purchase in a period (not a day inconvenient for some families) by register with purchaser ic/passport,” she wrote.
Other online users highlighted that the amount of free mask given by the Government – 4 masks per household – is too little. They said that some of them have more than four family members, hence making the amount distributed insufficient.